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4/28/2009
12:02 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Amazon Acquires Stanza E-Book Reader: Superior Selection Meets Superior Software

The other day, I tweeted that it would be awesome if the Amazon Kindle store sold books through the Stanza iPhone app. Yesterday, Amazon acquired Lexcycle, the company behind Stanza. I must never use this power for evil.

The other day, I tweeted that it would be awesome if the Amazon Kindle store sold books through the Stanza iPhone app. Yesterday, Amazon acquired Lexcycle, the company behind Stanza. I must never use this power for evil.The acquisition makes me happy in the short term, because Amazon and Stanza complement each other nicely. The Amazon Kindle Store has a better selection of current e-books than Stanza. But Stanza has a better user interface than the Kindle e-book reader for the iPhone.

In the long term, I worry about consolidation and lost freedom of choice in the e-book market, which is already dominated to an unhealthy extent by Amazon and Google. Freedom of the press only thrives when lots of people own presses, from multi-billion-dollar companies to passionate individuals.

I reviewed the Kindle software for iPhone last month; I praised the user interface but noted that it still has a few rough edges. The Stanza interface is much more polished: You can select from a variety of fonts, font colors and background colors, tilt the iPhone screen horizontally to read in landscape mode, and turn pages by tapping the edges of the screen. I also like it that Stanza will show you the percentage of the book that you've read so far.

Also, Stanza has versions for the Mac OS and Windows, and supports a variety of file formats, including HTML, PDF, Rich Text Format, and Microsoft Word.

The Kindle, on the other hand, excels in its selection of current books. While Stanza sells books from the Fictionwise store, in my experience, the selection is better on the Kindle. Also, most Kindle books are priced at $9.99, while the pricing on Fictionwise books is all over the place, some of them selling for exorbitant hardcover prices. The Stanza gets most of its catalog from free and public domain e-books, including the Gutenberg Project -- great if you want to read Charles Dickens, not so much if you want to read the latest science fiction novel.

Unanswered questions: Will Amazon sell Kindle books on Stanza? Additionally, what about Stanza's relationship with Fictionwise, recently bought by Amazon rival Barnes & Noble?

I've been reading quite a few e-books over the past few weeks, and giving both the Kindle iPhone app and Stanza a good workout. Reading e-books on the iPhone has virtues, but it also has problems. On the positive side, the iPhone is extremely portable; I can fit dozens of books in my shirt pocket. Another virtue: The iPhone is Internet-connected, which means I can read e-books on the same device I use for e-mail and Twitter. On the other hand, having e-mail and Twitter a few taps of my fingertips away is awfully distracting.

Indeed, I think it's been about a month since I picked up a print book. But I got a new book yesterday, a good, old-fashioned paperback, and I confess I'm looking forward to switching back to the old medium. For years, I rolled my eyes at people who waxed poetic about the smell and feel and sounds of a print book. I'm just not that sensual about books; to me, they are a delivery mechanism for text, nothing more. On the other hand, I've been a book-lover since childhood; I read several books a week every week from early childhood to college graduation, and even into adulthood I've kept up reading a couple of books a month. That's a powerful amount of sense memory associated with an activity that has almost always been pleasurable. Maybe that's what those people are talking about when they rave about the smell and feel and sounds of a print book.

Also, a print book provides the opportunity to disconnect and focus that's not available with an Internet-connected e-book reader.

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